• Simon Flint

What the new England Kata and Kumite coaches say about the future of the English Karate Federation

It was announced this week that the England squad has two new head coaches in Ady Gray and Junior Lefevre. These appointments are very exciting for the English Karate Federation and says a lot about the ambition and direction of the current EKF board.

Ady Gray - The new head Kata coach

Ady Gray, BSKA 6th dan, runs a club in Ripon and has been training in karate since the age of 7. Ady has been apart of the EKF national team setup before. In 2010 he was appointed as the assistant kata coach by Wayne Otto, the then England head coach. In 2014 Ady went to the World Championships as the England kata coach.

The English Karate Federation (EKF) said 'Ady has a wealth of experience which he brings with him, this will stand him in good stead as he begins to draw up a performance framework for the squad.'

Paul Royston conducted an interview with Ady to discuss the role and his plans for the future. During the interview, Ady outlined that the new EKF board, which was elected last year, was a major factor in his decision to apply for the role, stating that he felt the board would be supportive and allow him to fulfil the role. One of the reasons why he felt he had been selected, above other candidates, was his clear plan of how he is going to develop the kata squad. The sad reality of England kata at present is that we are not at the world standard. There has been very little success in major competitions for many years now and so there needs to be, without a doubt, a serious look at how the performance structure is organised and how talent is nurtured and developed from grassroots through to the national squad. This is something Ady touches on during the interview and he is clearly very aware of the need to implement this structure. He mentions the need for a regional system, similar to how the kumite is organised, as well as looking at how we approach preparing the top talent for competitions.

There's no doubt that there will be changes. Ady will be straight in at the deep end with the Junior World Championships in Chile on the 23rd October. We wish him and the England Kata squad all the best for the future.

Junior Lefevre - The new head kumite coach

Junior Lefevre is a Belgian who has achieved everything you could want to achieve within the world of karate as a competitor. He has a very impressive track record including:

-WKF World Champion 1996 and 2000

-WKF silver medal 2002 World Championships

-EKF European Champion 1995, 1996, 1998 and 1999

Junior also had some success in kata, being European Champion in 1995 and 1996. This demonstrates, in my view, a well rounded karateka who understands karate at all levels and is not just a 'fighter'. This is evident in the many videos you can find on YouTube of Junior. He respects karate's traditions and heritage and brings this into his kumite. He manages to retain the notion of karate as a martial art, not merely a sport.

The EKF stated on their website 'we are delighted to announce that Junior Lefevre has been appointed as the new Head Coach for kumite'. They went on to say 'Junior has a wealth of experience... and as well as being a former World Champion, Junior has coached a number of national teams around the world. This experience will stand him in good stead as he further develops the EKF performance framework and squad.' It would appear that this appointment is temporary as the EKF explain that Juliette Toney has been 'appointed assistant Head Coach [and] will be Head National Coach Designate'. However, a timeline hasn't been announced for this. Juliette is a former double World Champion and has assumed the role of assistant head coach in the past, during 2007 - 2012.

Junior did an interview with Jesse Enkemp a number of years ago. It is interesting to look at what Junior says about coaching and what makes a champion. When asked what advice he can give an athlete who wants to achieve greatness, Junior says:

' Mentality is most important. Not only the physical. Because, many times you have athletes that are on the same level from a technical, physical and tactical point of view, but what makes them different is their head. If one wants to achieve his goal more than the other one, he will do it. Believe me. The way you go to training is important. When you want to become a champion, every training is a championship. Every single training. You are not there to train. You are there to kill. And this mentality is completely different.'

'Today I’m 35 years old – I’m soft, compared to what I was when I was 20. I remember those days clearly, because nobody wanted to train with me. I was knocking people out. Even if my sensei said: “Go softer”, I didn’t care. My idea was; If you are in front of me, you want my spot. That’s all. And if you want my spot, I will punch you. This was my way of looking at competition.'

I think this gives a very clear insight into how Junior thinks and what he will bring to the England kumite squad. With potential Olympic gold medalists such as Jordan Thomas, I think Junior's appointment puts England in a great position for success in Tokyo next year.

The future looks bright for karate and the new EKF board appear to be making the right decisions and calls at the moment. Lets hope we see some momentum being built at the national level and a move forward from what has been, in all honesty, a terrible few years for the national squad.

Simon Flint